Recently, one of our dedicated volunteers, Ed Coward, discovered something pretty fascinating. Ed comes in every Thursday to help out with artifact conservation, and he typically spends the day airscribing. This is one of our dirtiest jobs, but somehow Ed manages to stay pretty clean throughout the process as you can see in the photo.
Airscribing is the process of removing concretion (build up of sand, shells, and sediment) from artifacts that have been recovered by the Lighthouse Archaeological Maritime Program (LAMP).
Ed is currently working on an artifact (12S 200) from the Storm Wreck that was recovered in 2012. To get a better idea of what is inside of a concretion, we always take X-rays. These can help the conservators know where to start working, or help them find small, fragile artifacts within the concretion.
When we first looked at the X-ray image for 12S 200, we knew right away that three things were present: A hammer, nails, and a padlock.
Because the hammer and padlock were very fragile, our Assistant Archaeological Conservator, Andrew Thomson, removed those items before Ed began work on the concretion. So what we’re focused on are the nails.
You’re probably thinking “What in the world could be fascinating about nails?” right?
As we do conservation of artifacts from the Storm Wreck, we try to identify and work on pieces that are either unique or may have some identification or information pertaining to the ship. Some of the items that have gone through or are currently undergoing conservation include a 4-pound cannon, a 9-pound carronade, dozens of cannonballs, numerous cast iron cauldrons, pewter plates, spoons and thousands of nails.
These artifacts were all chosen because they had the potential to have some diagnostic numbers or maker marks on them. They were also chosen because they were easily identifiable while excavating and X-raying. One common theme uniting all of these artifacts is that they are all big solid pieces or clumps of hundreds of little bits of metal.
Unfortunately, in maritime wrecks most of the surviving material is going to be metal. This makes conservation easier, since the same processes can be used for almost all the different metallic objects.
However, it is a nice break and a challenge when we come across organic materials.
Artifact 12S 200 was excavated during the 2012 LAMP field school. At first, it did not look like much.
It appeared to be a standard concretion of shell and sediment over a few different objects. But, when X-rayed, the unremarkable blob turned out to be very interesting. Continue reading →